News Bureau | University of Illinois

NewsBureauillinois
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign logo

Archives

2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008
Email to a friend envelope icon for send to a friend

New U. of I. video writing class draws diverse group of students

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor
217-333-2177; andreal@uiuc.edu


4/3/2006

Maria Lovett and Joseph Squier
Click photo to enlarge
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

As a former New York documentary filmmaker and media educator in community settings with underserved youth, Maria Lovett was, she said, inspired to design a college course that would give her the opportunity to “help students appreciate what they already know – their lived experience – and provide them with new tools to share and investigate their points of view.” She and Joseph Squier, a professor of art and of English, collaborated on the course.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Instructors for an experimental new composition course at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign now know firsthand the power of the well-known movie line, “if you build it, they will come.”

What the educators built was a new course, Art 199: “Writing With Video” (WWV). The students have flocked to it from a diverse range of majors: art and design, cinema studies, computer science, creative writing, media studies and psychology.

Such diversity is a good thing, said Maria Lovett, one of the creators of the course, because it “adds unique contributions to classroom discussions.”

“The media and cinema students in particular report how grateful they are to be able to put some of the theoretical knowledge they have gained from their other courses into practice.”

As a former New York documentary filmmaker and media educator in community settings with underserved youth, Lovett was, she said, inspired to design a college course that would give her the opportunity to “help students appreciate what they already know – their lived experience – and provide them with new tools to share and investigate their points of view.”

“Providing access to video production allows students to ‘re-world’ or ‘re-present’ their world in response to the pervasive representations that flood popular culture.”

The classroom is “a fluid environment,” she said, “where we learn from each other and use our own experiences and our own ‘ways of seeing’ as points of departure for conversations on a more macro level.”

Lovett, now working toward a doctorate in educational policy studies at Illinois, feels that too often learning environments are structured on the “top-down, hierarchical model,” but by offering new user-friendly inscription technologies, “WWV challenges this, and we do our best to make this distinction evident in all aspects of the class – not just through video production, but also through the writing, the class discussions and critiques.

“Ironically, I find that some that some students resist this new – or, as they may see it, lack of – structure, but by doing our best to ‘reveal the frame’ of the class practice and pedagogy behind it, I notice that the process and knowledge exchange become very empowering – for the students and the educators.”

Julia Burns, a junior in psychology, signed up for WWV because it looked like an especially interesting class and because she enjoys taking courses outside of her major – “especially courses that let me be creative.”

Burns recently screened her first video for her classmates. The piece, titled “Orange” and something akin to “A Day in the Life of an Orange,” was inspired by discussions in a psychology class about the cognitive awareness of death. Burns was anxious before she showed her video, concerned that she had gone about the project in the wrong way.

But art and design professor Joseph Squier, the other instructor, disabused her of that, calling the video a “very interesting piece – quite lovely, poetic, having an interesting world vision, but too long in places.”

“Time is always a challenge,” Squier said.

Not quite halfway through the semester, Burns already has learned a great deal about the technical aspects of creating a short film.

“Before this class, the most I could do with a video camera was turn it on and use the zoom,” she said. “I’m especially enjoying learning how to use the editing software, because it brings so much to the finished work. We also have studied some history and theory of film and art.”

But the most important thing she’s gotten from the class, she said, is “the confidence to attempt to make my projects as good as I imagine them being when I am brainstorming.”

“I’ve also learned to not be afraid of showing my personal work to my classmates and allowing my classmates to critique it. I think it is really important to learn to be able to take constructive criticism on very personal projects.”

Christopher Earnhart’s video was accompanied by his original poem titled, “the wide world Web.” Borrowing techniques from advertising, including the notion of the passive model, Earnhart, a senior in psychology and sociology, created a video meditation on the Internet as a valuable resource, but one that is too often misused or underused.

After he and the class viewed the video, Squier critiqued it, describing it as “ambitious and admirable, although as a piece of communication, a bit confusing.”

Teaching assistant Martha Webber suggested that one way Earnhart could clarify his meaning would be for him to pull out some key lines from his poem, lines that have the most impact. “Words will help us contextualize these images,” she said.

Hannah Bellwoar, another teaching assistant, was concerned about the repetitions in the video, and wondered if they advanced the story. The audio quality was uneven, she said, and too often she lost words.

The idea for the course came out of conversations between Squier and Lovett in the summer of 2004, shortly after Lovett’s arrival at Illinois.

“We fell into discussion about our mutual interest – video – and soon discovered a shared belief in the power of video as a rhetorical medium,” Squier said. “Somehow we hatched this crazy plan to develop a video course that harnessed the power of both video and writing and to conceptualize it as an advanced composition course.”

In addition to reading, writing, shooting and editing, the students immerse themselves in the world of video being published on the Internet.

The WWV course has just been approved for general education credit in two categories: advanced composition and humanities and the arts. Four sections of Art 250: Writing With Video, will be offered in the fall.